Research themes

Members of the Lab are involved in a diverse range of projects and consultancies that use participatory methods, action research and citizen science approaches in the global North and South. Key research themes include:

  • Action research and community development
  • Participatory methods and ethics with children and youth
  • Citizen science, citizen heritage, citizen social science
  • Museums, collections and participatory heritage
  • Participatory GIS and ecosystems services mapping
  • Participatory methods and stakeholder engagement with environmental policy evaluation, climate change adaptation, livelihoods and sustainable development

Action research and community development

Sally Lloyd-Evans has 20 years’ experience in community development and participatory action research (PAR) with public and voluntary sector organizations on social justice issues ranging from diversity and inclusion (Race Equality Councils and House of Commons) to health (Reading Healthwatch; Reading Voluntary Action) and most recently with the Local Trust’s national Big Local £1 million initiatives.  Her recent participatory action research with the Whitley Big Local (2015) on the mobility needs of local communities led to the development of a co-production research network called the ‘Whitley Researchers’ with local residents, schools and undergraduates (see Whitley Big Local blog and The Whitley Researchers).

Ruth Evans has developed a range of participatory feedback and dissemination processes, including digital video, which enhance the potential social impact of research. Ruth is currently developing follow-on impact activities from her research on bereavement, care and family relations in urban Senegal with key development policymakers, following extensive participatory workshops with young people, adult community members, practitioners and policymakers in Senegal (see the blog: Deathinthefamilyinsenegal).

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Eleanor Fisher has 20 years’ experience undertaking and leading action research projects, including the design of participatory methodologies tailored to a focus on livelihood issues, the social dynamics of natural resource management, and poverty / vulnerability reduction processes in the global South. Recent research focuses on chronic poverty, social protection and social cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa, financed by the Food and Agriculture Organization.  Research is based on the design and implementation of a participatory approach, as a complement to quantitative socio-economic research and datasets.  This has included the training and leading of local research teams. Past work has included the design of rights-based participatory vulnerability analysis for ActionAid, including capacity building and institutional mainstreaming.

  • Participatory methods and ethics with children and youth

Ruth Evans has recently co-edited a Springer Major Reference Work on Methodological Approaches. Geographies of Children and Young People and contributed a case study on dealing with distress in interviews with children for the UNICEF international guidelines, Ethical Research Involving Children.

Sally Lloyd-Evans also researches with young people and has recently worked with Reading Voluntary Action on engaging young people in participatory focus groups.

Ruth and Sally are currently developing a new project on Migration, Care and Family Relations: translocal family geographies in the UK which will use family-focused participatory techniques with migrant children and families.

  • Citizen science, citizen heritage, citizen social science

Hilary Geoghegan’s research focuses on understanding motivations for participation in citizen science and citizen heritage, ranging from volunteers and enthusiasts to professional scientists and museum curators. Her work has led to the establishment of a Tree Health Citizen Science Network in the UK, as well as roles advising Defra and the UK Environmental Observation Framework Citizen Science Working Group. She has led events funded by the ESRC, NERC and British Ecological Society and is in the process of establishing a large-scale citizen social science project on enthusiasm, hobbies and leisure.

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  • Museums, collections and participatory heritage

Rhi Smith works in the field of public archaeology, exploring how communities of stakeholders may contribute to or influence heritage interpretation. She recently led a collaborative AHRC Care for the Future project exploring ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘unloved’ collections with the Science Museum and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and is engaged in an ongoing AHRC funded collaborative project with Glastonbury Abbey.

The University is home to three accredited museums, alongside internationally recognised archival, art, typography/ ephemera, natural history, and rare book collections. University museums are recognised as organisations which can build bridges between academic research and wider communities. They can also act as laboratories in which the boundaries of public heritage/science can be explored through collaboration between professional, public and academic staff. The concept of co-curation or multi-vocal interpretation is at the forefront of current heritage practice. The collections based resources and spaces at Reading offer valuable opportunities for building on existing excellence in this field. Professional staff provide expertise in community engagement, co-curation, evaluation, and the management and marketing of a range of public facing initiatives. Staff within Reading’s University Museums and Special Collections Services have attracted funding or have actively participated in collaborative research and public engagement projects with Arts Council England, the Wellcome Trust, the AHRC, and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

  • Participatory GIS and ecosystems services mapping

Ruth Evans and Geoffrey Griffiths (WI Research Note, 2013) used participatory mapping workshops with community members and participatory GIS to map ecosystems services and community perceptions for an environment and social impact assessment of a major oil palm concession in rural Liberia (consultancy funded by Rights and Resources Initiative, in collaboration with Sustainable Development Institute Liberia and FERN NGOs).  Ruth Evans has also used participatory mapping techniques and produced a digital video of key messages for policy and practice with cashew farmers in Ghana (WI Research Note 2014 and YouTube video) through her collaboration with the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

Geoff’s recent work in Liberia for SDI Liberia is developing a participatory approach based on GIS to determine suitable sites for oil palm that minimises impacts on local communities and the environment in the South-East of the country. Similarly, Geoff is working with Fern UK in the Central Highlands of Vietnam to integrate mapping of forest types and ecosystem services with information on community use of forested land to improve forest management.

Jessica Neumann’s recent work for Global Witness in Cambodia is integrating land use information from satellite imagery with information on community use of forest resources to minimize the impact of planned rubber plantations. Neumann has worked with Fern UK to conduct the first global GIS mapping analysis to identify where coal extraction threatens the world’s natural forests (http://coalforest.org/). Neumann is also working with Ecosystems Knowledge Network on a comparative analysis and review of Ecosystem Service and Natural Capital Assessment toolkits to develop and an online ‘Tool Assessor’ (JNCC Project).

  • Participatory methods and stakeholder engagement with environmental policy evaluation, climate change adaptation, livelihoods and sustainable development

Henny Osbahr and colleagues in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development use participatory methods to understand livelihood transformation, including soil management, agricultural innovations, water management, socially differentiated dimensions in the global South. For example, the Building understanding of climate variability into planning of groundwater supplies from low storage aquifers in Africa (BRAVE) Project on co-developing groundwater management tools in West Africa. Participatory Information Services for Climate Adaptation (PICSA) is used as a tool to help farmer decision making  in the Capacitating African Smallholders with Climate Advisories and Insurance Development project (CASCAID) which will scale up across West Africa, USAID. Henny Osbahr and colleagues also use participatory methods to understand water management for food security and commercialization in South West Uganda  and have developed frameworks to support NGOs and policy stakeholders in Africa.

Alice Mauchline, Simon Mortimer and Julian Park developed a novel methodology for agri-environmental policy evaluation as part of an EU-funded project. The participatory approach engaged a broad range of stakeholders to customise the generic methodology for a local context. They are also starting a new EU project utilising a co-production approach for the design of innovative, personalised, public services for implementation of the CAP.

Giuseppe Feola developed a novel methodology for the participatory assessment of farming systems adaptation to climate change as part of the Newton Fund-funded project Climate Change, Water Resources and Food Security in Kazakhstan. The methodology includes participatory multi-stakeholder workshops to identify and discuss barriers to adaptation as well as entry points for adaptive innovation. Feola is also starting a new Newton Fund-funded project in Colombia in which local communities and family enterprises (tanneries) in the capital city of Bogotá will be involved in a series of workshops to develop sustainable development plans and tackle the conflicting interests of the industries and formal and informal settlements while protecting the local river and the ecosystem that it supports.

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